Joseph Edward Duncan III, from the United States, was a convicted serial killer and child molester. Federal authorities sentenced him to death for his role in the kidnapping and murder of several members of the Groene family from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2005.
He was also serving 11 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for the same crimes as well as the 1997 murder of Anthony Martinez of Beaumont, California.
On February 25, 1963, he was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Joseph Edward Duncan Jr and Lillian Mae Duncan. He was the fourth child in a family of five, with three older sisters and a younger brother. Because of his father’s service in the United States Army, the family frequently relocated both within the United States and abroad, frequently moving every year or two.
After the elder Duncan retired, they eventually settled in Tacoma, Washington. Duncan’s mother was described as domineering; he claimed she abused him as a child, but his brother refuted this when he was arrested in 1980. Duncan’s parents divorced in 1979, and his sisters soon followed. Duncan stayed at home with his mother, while his brother moved in with their father and stepfamily.
He was a troubled young man who had committed violent sexual crimes in the past. His first known crime was the rape of a 9-year-old boy at gunpoint in 1978, when he was 15 years old. He later admitted to a therapist assigned to the case that by the age of 16, he had sexually assaulted 19 boys. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for kidnapping and raping a 14-year-old boy in 1980.
After serving only 14 years of his sentence, he was granted parole in 1994, but was arrested again in 1996 for marijuana possession. He is suspected of murdering three people while on parole, but these cases were not linked to him until much later. He violated his parole terms and was returned to prison in 1997, but he was released in 2000 with time off for good behavior and relocated to Fargo, North Dakota.
Joseph Edward Duncan III was charged in March 2005 with the molestation of two boys in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota in June 2004. On April 5, 2005, a county judge in Becker County granted him bail of $15,000 USD. Duncan was helped to post bail by a Fargo businessman who knew him, but he vanished after being released. On June 1, 2005, a federal warrant was issued for his arrest on the charge of “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.”
The Groene Family’s Murder
Brenda Groene, 40, Mark McKenzie, 37, and Slade Groene, 13, were discovered dead in their home by Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on May 16, 2005. Dylan and Shasta, Brenda’s 9 and 8-year-old children, were discovered missing.
Authorities issued an AMBER Alert and searched the area for the missing children, while the deaths at the home were investigated as homicides. Autopsies revealed that the victims died from “blunt trauma to the head” and that they had been bound.
Shasta was seen seven weeks later, on July 2, 2005, at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene with an unknown man. A waitress, manager, and two customers who had seen media reports about the girl’s disappearance recognized her.
They called the cops and stopped the man from fleeing. The man, later identified as Joseph Edward Duncan III, was arrested by police when they arrived at the restaurant. Shasta identified herself to the waitress and authorities and was taken to Kootenai Medical Center for medical treatment and to be reunited with her father.
Duncan was arrested by Coeur d’Alene police on kidnapping charges and a federal warrant. Authorities began searching for her brother Dylan in the area after she was discovered alone.
Human remains were discovered in July 2005 at a secluded campsite within the Lolo National Forest near St. Regis in the state of Montana. The remains were turned over to the FBI for analysis and autopsy, and it was discovered that he had been shot in the head with a shotgun.
Shasta Groene, the only surviving member of the Groene family, told investigators about the murders. According to her, Joseph Edward Duncan III murdered her mother, older brother, and mother’s fiancé before abducting her and her brother in a stolen Jeep Cherokee from their home. Duncan, she said, tied the victims up with nylon zip ties and then bludgeoned them to death.
Shasta and Dylan were taken to separate locations and repeatedly molested and tortured for six weeks. Duncan told Shasta that he had beaten her family members to death with a hammer while they were staying at two different campsites.
Duncan was also charged in the molestation and death of Anthony Martinez, a 10-year-old boy who went missing in 1997 and whose body was discovered about two weeks later. The partial print and composite sketch obtained during the investigation aided in the conviction of Duncan.
His Trial and Investigation
He was sentenced to death and placed on death row after a lengthy trial at both the state and federal levels. Counseling was provided to the jurors who sentenced Joseph Edward Duncan III to death in order to help them cope with the disturbing evidence presented during the trial.
Duncan was shown on video torturing, physically and verbally assaulting, and sexually abusing a restrained and naked Dylan Groene for 33 minutes. The video showed the abuse occurring in various areas of a dilapidated wooden cabin. Human remains, a wire noose discovered inside the cabin, and additional videos of Duncan torturing Dylan were also presented as evidence.
One of the videos featured a child screaming in agony while a naked Duncan yelled, “The devil is here, boy, the devil himself… The devil enjoys seeing children suffer and cry!” Duncan died in 2020 at the age of 58 from a brain tumor after refusing chemo and radiotherapy.